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04 September 2017
| James Pearce
With almost a billion unconnected people on the African continent, satellites will play a key role in meeting growing demand, explains Intelsat’s VP for Africa, Brian Jakins
Getting infrastructure to parts of Africa is, to put it
lightly, a challenge. Despite 1.2 billion people living in on
the continent, there are 634 million people without electricity
– the majority living in sub-Saharan Africa. Even
fewer have broadband – around 300 million.
Physical challenges for deploying fibre means other
solutions, such as satellite, are especially popular in the
region, with Intelsat operating 24 satellites there altogether.
Brian Jakins, the satellite operator’s regional VP
for Africa, says it is no surprise that three of the four
satellites it has launched in the last year cover the
"If you look at the last four satellites we’ve
launched over the last 12 months, three provide coverage to
Africa, and that shows where we want to build the investment
and provide services," he explains.
The demand is there, he claims, with Africa seeing a "huge
upsurge" in the telecoms market as a whole over the last few
The "ecosystem of terrestrial and satellite" has seen
significant growth, but "not without challenges", he adds.
"There is the need for more investment to get currency into
Africa so infrastructure can grow. If you look at electricity,
not everyone has that in Africa.
"There are a host of applications and services used in the
African market. From a broadband perspective there is a lot of
growth from a cell backhaul perspective, where mobile networks
are trying to offload a load of traffic from their network to
maintain their voice services, putting data on a separate
route. That’s one of the biggest areas we see in
the African market.
"Consumer broadband is also growing significantly, and then
trunking. Obviously, that is declining with the advent of
undersea cables, but you still have your traditional voice
telephony in remote locations and then you also have corporate
networks. It is a tried and tested method in remote
Of course, one concern around satellite connectivity is
always cost and, in a market in need of investment, this can be
a challenge. Jakins says this is why Intelsat is always looking
for new and innovative solutions, to overcome the high costs,
including the Epic satellites, the first of which was launched
in January 2016.
He explains: "Using the Epic fleet you have a high number of
spot beams, the ground infrastructure is fully backwards
compatible, and the efficiencies are significantly higher." For
the end-user, the cost of a megabit could drop by up to 50%, he
"That is purely based on the efficiencies of an Epic
satellite with a great ground infrastructure," Jakins adds. The
cost of launching the satellite is still the same, but "what
you can do with modern technology is provide a greater amount
of throughput, which reduces the cost of ownership. So it is
cheaper to buy megabits, and that’s what
we’ve done to meet demands of the African market".
This growth has led to a number of partnerships, which Intelsat
has announced this year, covering the region. One partnership
with Liquid Telecom, announced in April of this year, sees the
African operator using Intelsat’s 33e satellite
for a number of services across the Democratic Republic of
Congo (DRC), Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda,
Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The solution features ground networking equipment based upon
the Newtec Dialog VSAT platform, including technology developed
under the ESA-funded Project Indigo by Intelsat and Newtec.
Jakins explains: "Obviously, Liquid is trying to connect as
many places as possible where the business case makes sense. So
to provide seamless capacity, they use a number of solutions,
tapping into the whole ecosystem of both terrestrial and
"They also serve some broadcast customers that they run
through their fibre, but for the last mile, they use satellite.
The partnership was reciprocal as we have a core beam over
South Africa where we can uplink their services from, and
Liquid will be our partner to provide services to other
customers through that managed teleport."
Intelsat has an agreement with Somalia’s Dalkom
in order to expand the operator’s broadband
enterprise and direct-to-home services in east and central
Africa and the Middle East. Privately-owned Dalkom will
incorporate Ku-band satellite services provided by Intelsat 17
to extend services currently delivered by its fibre
The deal will also expand broadband enterprise networks into
countries such as South Sudan and the DRC, as well as the
Middle East. Dalkom will also add DTH services to its portfolio
"With Dalkom, they are in all of Africa and are also a major
terrestrial provider, and want to ensure they have sufficient
capacity to provide DTH services, broadband services, while
also having redundancy on those fibre cables. So that was very